Confident Meszaros makes case to stay in lineup

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Confident Meszaros makes case to stay in lineup

Andrej Meszaros did his best to prove he deserves to stay in the Flyers’ lineup, at least through the weekend.

The Flyers’ defenseman, who’s spent about half the season watching his team from the stands, racked up three assists in the Flyers’ 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night.

It was the first time he accomplished such a feat since 2006 –- his rookie year.

“I’m just going game by game, and trying to do my best out there,” Meszaros said. “Trying to help the offense as much as I can, and be solid in the defensive zone.”

To say it’s been an “up-and-down” season for the 28-year-old would be putting it mildly. Meszaros has played just 24 games in 2013-14, the first year in a while he’s been healthy. The team’s coaches liked their other options so much more that the Flyers were paying Meszaros $67,073.17 per game not to suit up.

But he’s now played eight games in a row, his most consecutive games this season. Though he said he’s felt good in plenty of other outings, if Wednesday night is any indication, it’s paying dividends.

“It’s good for the confidence for any player, not just me,” Meszaros said. “Obviously, it’s tough when you’re in and out of the lineup. And when you get a chance to play a bunch of games in a row, it helps your confidence.”

Another thing that helped his confidence? Meszaros was recently named to Team Slovakia, and will represent his home country at next month’s Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“Yeah [it helps],” he said. “Obviously, it’s an honor to be selected, and I’m looking forward to that. When you’re there, and you’re representing your country, it’s always a big thing. I’m obviously happy about it.”

But even before he learned he’d be heading to Sochi, Meszaros was starting to turn a corner. Since returning to the Flyers’ lineup Dec. 23, he has five assists and a plus-5 rating. He’s averaging a solid 16:42 a night over that span.

More importantly, though, he’s feeling comfortable.

“He’s played good hockey,” coach Craig Berube said. “He’s come in and played really well since Gus [Erik Gustafsson] went down. He had a real good game [Wednesday], but overall, he’s improving all the time.

“He’s a good offensive defenseman. He’s a good all-around defenseman who can do a lot of different things. He can skate, he can shoot the puck, he can defend. So, he’s a valuable guy.”

The issue for Meszaros, however, is exactly what Berube mentioned: His return to the lineup happened only after Gustafsson sprained his knee. According to general manager Paul Holmgren, Gustafsson could return as soon as Saturday, when the Flyers host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Though Berube said he’s “not there yet” in terms of making a decision on what happens when Gustafsson returns, there’s no question Meszaros is making a case to stay.

After all, that's all he can do.

“It’s up to the coaches who’s going to be in the lineup,” Meszaros said. “The only thing I can control is play my best, and we’ll see what happens.”

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers (33-31-8) at Wild (44-22-6)
8 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 7:30

A four-game road trip takes a daunting turn Thursday night when the Flyers play the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Hazardous road
You thought things were already ugly?

It looks like it could get much, much worse.

The Flyers now visit three of the NHL's top five clubs, starting with the Wild, followed by the Blue Jackets and the Penguins.

Those three are a combined 137-58-21 overall and 79-24-5 at home.

And it's safe to say the Flyers don't have any momentum heading into this gauntlet. They're coming off a 3-2 loss to the Jets, a non-contender decimated by injuries, and are 4-15-3 on the road since Dec. 19 with a minus-36 goal differential.

"We need to have a better effort," Steve Mason said postgame Tuesday. "We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before we know it."

2. Hole gets deeper
With a win over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday, the Maple Leafs moved past the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, making Boston the current leader for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot at 82 points.

The Flyers, with 74 points, trail the Bruins, Islanders (80), Lightning (77) and Hurricanes (75), who have a game in hand, as well. Oh, and the Panthers are just one point behind the Flyers.

Ten regular-season games remain and Dave Hakstol's group needs a miracle.

In search of some type of spark, the Flyers will strut out a different look against the Wild.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Matt Read said Wednesday. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

3. A look at the Wild
Minnesota, which went 30-6-3 from the start of December to the end of February, has cooled off a bit but is still one of the most well-rounded teams in the NHL.

The Wild are 3-8-0 in March. For the season, however, they rank among the league's top 10 in goals per game (3.22 -- second), goals against per game (2.47 -- tied for sixth), power-play percentage (21.3 -- ninth) and penalty-kill percentage (83.8 -- seventh).

Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker all have 20 or more goals, while netminder Devan Dubnyk has been a top-five goalie at 37-18-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Jakub Voracek has no goals and an assist in his last six games for a minus-5 rating. When he's not providing offense, the Flyers predictably struggle. The good thing: Voracek owns 16 points in 18 career games against Minnesota.

Wild: Ryan Suter has been a stud for the Wild. The defenseman leads the NHL as a plus-34 and is third with 27:07 of ice time per game. The 32-year-old is Minnesota's backbone and the Wild are 21-6-1 in games that he has at least one point.

5. This and that
• Mason will make his 11th start in the last 12 games. He is 7-6-1 lifetime against Minnesota with a 2.59 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

• Dubnyk is 2-4-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Brandon Manning is back in the lineup for Michael Del Zotto (see Skate Update). Manning missed the last fives games with a shoulder injury.

• Former Flyer Ryan White is out for the Wild with an illness.

Flyers Skate Update: Brandon Manning back in lineup vs. Wild

Flyers Skate Update: Brandon Manning back in lineup vs. Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Facing a critical road game in Minnesota on Thursday night, the Flyers will welcome back a key defenseman to their lineup.

Brandon Manning, who has missed the past five games with a shoulder injury, will return and pair with Radko Gudas on the blue line.

“We’re playing a heavy team tonight,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “They’ve got some size up front. They’re a heavy team down low. So, we’ll need that pair to play that way. They’ve got to be an abrasive pair and they have to be on the heavy side defensively.”

Michael Del Zotto will be the odd man out as the Flyers have seven healthy defensemen again. Manning, with three goals and seven assists in 57 games this season, said he’s not worried about conditioning or the injury.

“I’m not too worried about that,” Manning said. “I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong. Did some contact a few days ago and not even thinking about it.”

Toronto’s win in Columbus on Tuesday night allowed the Maple Leafs to surpass Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins now hold the No. 8 spot in the playoff race with 82 points with nine games remaining. The Flyers are eight points back, with three teams in between, and 10 games left in the season.

Their play on the road is one big reason why the Flyers are out of a playoff spot. They are 12-20-4 on the road this season, tied for the second-fewest road wins among Eastern Conference teams. They’re winless in their last six road games (0-5-1) as they play the second game of a four-game trip.

“I don’t think there’s panic,” Manning said. “I think the focus is on each and every night, not really looking too far down the road. Obviously, the last couple weeks, we’ve probably given up points we don’t want to give up and put ourselves in a pretty tough spot. But we got a good group of guys in here, and guys that have played pro hockey long enough that know what it’s like.”

With Del Zotto's being scratched for Manning, Nick Schultz will play what could be his final game in the Xcel Energy Center, where he spent 10 seasons with the Wild. Schultz, a second-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2000, ranks second in franchise history with 743 games played.

Hakstol said Schultz’s history wasn’t a factor in keeping the defenseman in the lineup.

“He’s filled his role well the last few games,” Hakstol said. “He’s been good in that role with Ghost. So, he’s staying in for that reason.”

Goaltender Steve Mason will start for the 11th time in 12 games. He has a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in his last 10 games.

Lineup
F: Read-Giroux-Voracek
Weal-Filppula-Simmons
Schenn-Couturier-Weise
Konecny-Bellemare-VandeVelde

D: Provorov-MacDonald
Schultz-Gostisbehere
Manning-Gudas

G: Mason